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272                                                                                                              B. POLEVOI
the airfield and watch these machines rise steeply into
the air after a short run and see their bluish undersides
glistening in the sun as they veered. He would go up to
one, examine it, stroke its wing and pat its side as if
it were not a machine, but a handsome, well-groomed,
thoroughbred horse. At last, the group was lined up at
the start. Every man was eager to try his skill, and a re-
strained altercation commenced among them as to who
was to go up first. The first one the instructor called on
was Struchkov. The major's eyes shone, he smiled know-
ingly, and he whistled a tune excitedly as he strapped on
his parachute and drew the hood over the cockpit.
The engine roared, the plane shot off down the air field,
leaving a trail of powdery snow that glistened in the sun-
light like a rainbow, and in another moment it was in the
air, its wings glittering in the sun. Struchkov described a
narrow curve over the airfield, banked beautifully several
times, rolled over, skilfully, handsomely performed the
prescribed number of acrobatics, vanished from sight, sud-
denly shot out from over the roof of the school and, with
roaring engine, swept at top speed over the airfield almost
knocking the caps off the heads of the trainees who were
waiting for their turn, and vanished again. He soon
returned, however, and now, staidly descending, he made a
skilful landing. He jumped out of the cockpit excited,
exultant, wild with delight, like a boy who had successfully
played a merry prank.
"It's not a machine, it's a violin, by God that's what it
is!" he shouted breathlessly, interrupting the instructor who
was scolding him for his recklessness. "You can play Chai-
kovsky on it, I tell you!" Throwing his powerful arms
around Meresyev, he exclaimed: "It's good to be alive,
It was, indeed, a splendid craft. Everybody agreed on
that. Meresyev's turn came. After strapping his feet to
the pedals he rose into the air and suddenly felt that this
steed was too mettlesome for him, a footless rider, and
needed extra careful handling. When the plane rose into
the air he had failed to feel that full and magnificent
contact with the machine that creates the joy of flying.
It was an excellently constructed machine. It answered
to every movement, to every tremor of the hand on the